SEOUL • A controversial "comfort women" deal struck between South Korea and Japan took centrestage in the first phone call between new President Moon Jae In and Japan's Premier Shinzo Abe.
Mr Abe told Mr Moon yesterday it was "extremely important" to implement the deal, said Japan's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.
In response, Mr Moon said that most South Koreans do not accept the deal reached in late 2015 to settle the issue of Korean women forced to work at Japan's wartime military brothels.
Under the landmark deal, Mr Abe issued an apology over the issue and arranged for one billion yen (S$12.3 million) to be deposited into a South Korean foundation for the surviving victims. But critics say the deal did not go far enough in holding Japan responsible for abuses during its 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
Mr Moon had earlier called the deal "wrong and unacceptable" and he promised to seek a renegotiation of the agreement with Japan during his election campaign.
His chief press secretary Yoon Young Chan said President Moon did not use the word "renegotiation" in his 25-minute conversation with Mr Abe.
Despite Mr Moon's firm stance on the sexual slavery issue, he said historical issues must not hinder the countries' bilateral relations and joint efforts to denuclearise North Korea.
"He (Mr Moon) said he saw a need for the two countries to work together and wisely overcome historical disputes including the comfort women issue, while separately continuing their joint efforts to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue," Mr Yoon said at a press briefing.
Both leaders agreed to meet as soon as possible, as well as hold a summit involving Japan, South Korea and China.
A high-ranking Japanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Japan Times Mr Moon's willingness to meet Mr Abe marks "a clear difference" from the attitude of former president Park who did not visit Japan while in office.